I guess you can call the No. 33 team on our Top 100 Countdown lucky. The Cincinnati Bearcats were dealt a crushing blow following their successful 2012 season when head coach Butch Jones departed for the greener pastures of the SEC and the Tennessee Volunteers. However, not long after that, in stepped former Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville.
With a total of 13 starters returning (7 offense, 6 defense) Tuberville certainly has his eyes on an AAC trophy in his first season at the helm. How realistic are those aspirations? Let’s take a look.
Senior Brendon Kay is fully healthy and ready to lead this potentially potent offensive attack. In just five starts last season after taking over for the wildly inconsistent Munchie Legaux, Kay tossed for 1,298 yards and ten touchdowns. The senior is also a much better fit for the style of offense that Tuberville looks to install within this unit. Although in this creative college football world, don’t be surprised if you see Legaux get some significant playing time in packages specifically designed to utilize his talents.
There’s some question marks within the rest of the skill positions however. George Winn, who rushed for over 1,300 yards last season is gone and the offense will look to the likes of RD Abernathy (366 yards, 3TD in 2012) and highly touted JUCO transfer Rodriguez Moore to step up in production from the backfield.
Also gone are the Bearcats’ top two receivers from last season in Travis Kelcie and Kenbrell Thompkins. Anthony McClung does return from last season after catching 34 balls for 539 yards and two touchdowns and he’ll be looking to raise those numbers just a bit to contribute more to the offense. Also looked at as productive pieces in the receiving corps are junior Alex Chisum and sophomore Chris Moore.
The offensive line may be the saving grace of this unit at the end of the day. With all five members returning–led by First-Team All-Big East G Austen Bujnoch–with a combined 83 starts, they’ll definitely help in giving everyone proper time to settle in to their new roles and figure out their niches.
Two starters come back this season on the defensive line right in the heart of the group in DT Mitch Meador and NT Jordan Stepp. This is a unit looking to improve upon giving up 136 yards-per-game last year against the rush while at the same time having to replace 13.5 sacks they’re losing from last season. Look for sophomore DE Silverberry Mouhon, a quick speed-rusher off the edge, to help out significantly with that cause though.
Make no mistake about one thing, the linebackers are the heart and soul of this defense. The team’s leading tackler MLB Greg Blair is back along with SLB Nick Temple. And as far as replacing the hole at the weak spot, that shouldn’t be too difficult as they should just plug in Florida State transfer Jeff Luc to fill that void. This is unquestionably the best linebacker corps in the AAC.
Speaking of questions, that’s exactly what we have here in the secondary. They’re losing a ton of production from last year but do return talented FS Arryn Chenault and CB Deven Frane. This unit will face some pass-happy offenses throughout the season so sophomore CB Trenier Orr and freshman SS Andre Jones will need to find their comfort zones, and quickly.
For a team with a lot of players looking to find their roles, this schedule isn’t the least bit favorable. They open up with two B1G opponents, albeit mediocre ones, in Purdue and Illinois. Now should they be able to get through the likes of Houston, Memphis, South Florida and Rutgers, then mark Thursday night Dec. 5 on your calendar as that game against Louisville could be for the AAC crown and a trip to the BCS.
Now above I said that the game against Louisville “could” be for the AAC crown, however I don’t think it will be. In all actuality, I think this team may struggle to make it into bowl contention altogether with the certain pieces they’re trying to replace against a schedule of their magnitude.
Although, as I began with, this team may indeed have been lucky. If there is any coach that can gather this group together and prove me wrong, it’s Tommy Tuberville.
Jack is a College Football Writer for Rant Sports. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackJ14RS